Sunday, 5 August 2012

Harry Potter and Roald Dahl -- a day out (near) London

Our very busy summer continues . . . yesterday we spent the day near London with our friends the Seppanens (thanks to Jay for planning the day--it's nice to have the details taken care of for a change!).  We purchased tickets to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour (link) way back in March to find a prime Saturday morning slot that would work for us both.  As you can tell above, we arrived early (as usual) as the traffic allowance was not needed.

The WB studio is in "London" in the greater sense if you go by the general inside M25 definition.  It's actually in the suburb (?) of Watford to the north.  It made for a very easy 2-hr drive from Derby (Point B above).   Since it was reasonably close, we (Jay) decided to also take in the Roald Dahl museum (link) in the small village of Great Missenden (Point C), about 30 minutes away.

On to the tour.   First of all, I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan but the others are (particularly Nicole and Kuk).  I enjoyed the day nonetheless but would imagine that the real fanatics out there would be in heaven.  Some of the filming was done on location but a great deal of it was done in the studio (obviously).  The tour takes you through some of the sets and shows the costumes, props, etc.

Harry's bedroom under the stairs is shown above (it's in the queuing area before entry).

 The Great Hall

 another Great Hall shot

 some of the original costumes including young Harry first cloak and hat.  I did find it interesting that the movies took 10 years to produce so the young actors literally grew up together with their larger studio families as they made the films

Harry's bedroom in the Gryffindor boys dormitory (the beds became much too small as the boys grew and they had to curl up to fit into them)

 The Gryffindor common room with the non-wizard attire

 Nicole in front of the Griffin stairwell to Dumbledore's office

Dumbledore's office

Snape's classroom

The "vault cart" and green screen.  This a multi-axis machine to allow the required motion.  The green screen allows for backgrounds to be added in post-production.

speaking of which, the kids got to hop in front a a green screen themselves . . . here's Alex

and Nicole

 Alex and Nicole with Karl and Kalle (remember we saw this train and viaduct in Glenfinnan, Scotland)

a prop from The Ministry of Magic -- carved in foam and painted to look like stone.  The attention to detail on the props was amazing.  I particularly liked the actual oil paintings used (each had 2 versions with eyes open and eyes closed).

There was a well placed refreshment stand after the first studio.  Here are the troops having a Butterbeer (cream soda).  Note the hanging digital audio video guides -- a nice add on to provide some additional material to the experience.

The kids in Hagrid's motorcycle.  I didn't get a picture of Hagrid's hut but I did find a few facts interesting.  They had 2 versions.  One was greater than life size to make the kids look small and another was smaller than life size to make Hagrid look big (the former was shown in the studio tour).  The actor for Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) is not particularly large, but his stunt double is (6'10" former English rugby player Martin Bayfield).

Another tidbit:  they transported Hagrids hut to Glencoe for some of the filming and it rained solid for all 5 weeks!   Glad our day in Glencoe wasn't like that.

Alex's turn as driver

on to the Backlot and the Riddle Family Gravestone

 #4 Privet Drive (initial scenes were filmed on location but they realized it would be easier to have their own set)

The next studio started with the creature shop.  They built a life size Dobby for the actors to work with.  This was then scanned in for the Visual Effects team to use for the Computer Generated Graphics as seen in the film.

 Griphook the Goblin

Diagon Alley

 artist sketch of Dobby . . . a lot of work goes into the pre-production phase of making the movies

One of the more impressive sights was the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts castle.  The model was used in filming of the first movie but was also digitally enhanced.  That doesn't take away for the very intricate detail that went into making it.

The tour took about 3 hours and we all enjoyed it.

After a quick bite in the cafe we drove to Great Missenden where Roald Dahl lived during the later half of his life.

The museum, though in a graded building (I believe), is not where we actually lived.  That would be Gipsy House (link) which we did not visit because it's not really open (Felicity Dahl, Roald's second wife, still lives there).

Freys and Seppanens ready to go

The museum itself was quite small (2 rooms more or less plus some other activity areas).  One room had this cutout of Roald who was quite tall (nearly 6'6") along with the assumed (?) heights of various characters.  Here's how Alex measures up.

Roald was a pilot in the RAF during WWII.  Here's me goofing with the kid props.  Roald had a crash landing at one point and sustained many injuries which affected him throughout his life.  More on that later.

Alex isn't quite at pilot height

Probably the best part of the museum was his writing room from the small hut he had in his back garden.  He would write for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon.  Due to his injuries he used this "comfortable" chair and rigged up a writing platform lined with billiards felt and raised to the appropriate height.  He had his needed supplies nearby.  Not shown was the massive ball of foil that he kept from his daily Cadbury candy wrappers.

The setup for the Fantastic Mr. Fox was based on this

The museum was geared towards kids.  Alex goofing with the large BFG ears.

We did not partake in Cafe Twit but could not pass up the photo op.

Though we enjoyed the quick visit the general reaction was "Is that it?".  I came away feeling they could do much more.  Most of the info (if not more) can be gathered from the Wiki link though true fans may like the bits in the museum.  Definitely not worth a special trip but okay if you are in the area and are a fan.

Given the nice day, we decided to take the short walk to the St. Peter and St. Paul church where Roald is buried.

There it is.  I guess leaving small coins is a show of respect?  Note the ball of foil at the top as well.  Not a big enough fan to know what the onion is meant to represent.

We then walked back to the village and hit the sweet shop across the street from the museum.

He liked his sweets . . . we liked the "7 glorious years of invention" comment.  Roald spent some of his youth in the Repton Boarding school in Derbyshire.  During those years, Cadbury would send samples for the kids to judge.  This was one of the inspirations for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Many of the crew got milkshakes which were closer to the "proper" form which we are used to (i.e. they were actually somewhat thick with ice cream and milk rather than the typical US (just) flavored milk).

a photo of another inspiration in the village -- the Red Pump Garage (not so red these days) featured in Danny, Champion of the World.

one final shot of High Street in Great Missenden . . . the patriotic flags are flying (it's quite the patriotic year with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and London 2012 Olympics).

 All in all a really nice day out.  Thanks again, Jay.

On Sunday we had a really nice night out with many fellow Rolls-Royce ex-pats.  Dave, Sarah and Anna Anderson are on their way back home next week and we all got together to wish them well.  Glad we could all take part (too bad only the close half of the table was looking).  We turned out to be a rowdy bunch so I hope they invite us back!  Good luck repatriating Andersons! 

Nicole got a chance to hold Anna.  What a cutie.  

That's all this week.  Have a good week everyone.


  1. Another fine job especially on the pics and RD write up. The day turned out well, I really enjoyed the HP tour more than I expected actually. Waiting for the football write up now.

  2. Just to say that the Red Pump Garage wasn't quite so red as it was being renovated. You should see it now.

    Local Great Missenden Resident